Ani DiFranco’s offering up two versions of her new reproductive freedom anthem “Play God,” so we jumped at the opportunity to interview the arresting singer-songwriter-poet-entrepreneur-icon for our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One. During our in-depth chat, DiFranco discussed the inspiration behind the writing of her timely protest song, the toxicity of patriarchy, the power of resistance, and what we can look forward to on her upcoming (20th!) album Binary.
NoiseTrade: You’re offering two versions of your new song “Play God” on your new NoiseTrade sampler. What initially sparked the writing of this very timely (and continually needed) reproductive freedom as civil rights protest song?
Ani DiFranco: Allow me to step through the basic tenants of my political thinking I believe it is something of a universal law that balance breeds peace and imbalance breeds turmoil. In this way, I regard patriarchy (the great imbalance at the core of all human society) as being the source of all of our modern social diseases. It’s like the source of the river of domination and aggression that divides many times in many ways throughout history. The emancipation and empowerment of women therefore becomes prerequisite to peace on earth. Reproductive freedom is the key to the emancipation and empowerment of women, pure and simple.
My thinking on this has become clearer and clearer with each year that I spend on the planet. I remember sitting in a hotel room on tour one night and working on a kind of a bluesy, bragging song with my little baby guitar. Before I knew it, the song started transforming itself into a reproductive freedom anthem. I think I had become subliminally aware that I needed to counteract the dearth of songs in this world that directly address a woman’s right to choose, for the sake of the cause of feminism and all of mankind. My subconscious just guided me there.
NT: I love the lyric “I showed up to enlist on the first day of recruits.” What specifically did that look like for you and what are some ways that you can recommend others enlist and get in the ring?
DiFranco: I mean, I guess the writing of “Play God” is a good example. When you see some work that needs to be done in the world, do it! Whatever it is you personally perceive or feel strongly about, follow that and act upon it. Make yourself accountable to your own ideals, to your society, to the greater good… there are so many, many ways to go about it! Whatever your spirit and soul is drawn to, that is your best way. If you feel daunted by this messed up world and you just don’t know where to start, I would say just go to the coolest person or people or organization that you know and offer to help them. You will gain even more than you give.
NT: Your live version of “Play God” was also a part of 30 Days, 30 Songs. What did it mean for you to join alongside other artists in this project and how has the song been received by fans when you play it live?
DiFranco: You can discern by the vanguard of the resistance to the Trump regime the nature of the problem itself, which is patriarchy run amok! There is nothing more patriarchal than a dictator and that is what we are now confronted with in America. It is important to rise to every occasion we can as individuals, to participate in the resistance to fascism on our shores. The 30 songs, 30 days campaign was just one example for me.
Fans at my shows are loving “Play God.” I love to feel the wave of shock roll across the room when I get to the refrain “You don’t get to play God, man, I do.” Some immediately cheer, others are slower to the table, and still others stay in a state of puzzlement. All of that is okay. As long as a conversation about patriarchy is started, I’m happy.
NT: “Play God” is from your upcoming record Binary, which is impressively your 20th studio album overall. First, what can you tell us about the other songs, topics, and inspirations behind Binary? Second, does this being your 20th studio album hold any special significance or mark a meaningful milestone for you?
DiFranco: I have a killer band in effect on this record -Todd Sickafoose, Terence Higgins, Jenny Scheinman, and Ivan Neville – and some stellar special guests like Maceo Parker, Justin Vernon, and Gail Ann Dorsey. I also employed an amazing mixer named Tchad Blake to mix the damn thing instead of doing it myself for a change. So I am pretty thrilled with this, my 20th studio album. The songs run my usual gamut from personal to political and back again. Truth is, I don’t really separate those things. Anyway, I cover a lot of ground.
NT: You’ve also got two other politically relevant songs on your NoiseTrade sampler: “Alla This” and “Subdivision.” What can you tell us about the themes running through these two songs and what do you hope listeners take away from them?
DiFranco: “Subdivision” is a song I wrote in 2000 about how racism changes our whole landscape, physically and metaphorically speaking. It is a thing that makes us all weaker, not just people of color, and its collateral damage hurts everything, including the land we stand on. “Alla This” is a song I wrote in 2007 about resistance to political wrongness: physical, mental, and spiritual resistance. I thought both of them were good songs to pull out once again.
NT: As someone who has wonderfully modeled resistance and balanced hope amidst troubling times throughout her songwriting, what power do you believe music has in affecting and ultimately changing our own situations and the world at large?
DiFranco: Music has immense power to uplift, connect, unite, and inspire. We harness its power to lift us out of trouble of all sorts. We need it to deliver us – Goddess, please let it deliver us! Music with lyrics attached to it, poetry associated, can be especially potent medicine.
NT: Finally, you’ve definitely got your own impressive back catalog of protest songs, but what are some songs from other artists (from any decade/era) that you feel really embody the spirit of resistance and the fight for truth to be brought out into the light that you’d recommend listeners check out?
DiFranco: Billie Holiday’s “You Let Me Down,” Hamell on Trial’s “Values,” Woody Guthrie’s “Deportee,” Loretta Lynn’s “The Pill,” Pete Seeger’s “My Name is Lisa Kalvelege,” Utah Phillips’ “Korea,” and Aretha Franklin’s “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man.”
When writer Will Hodge (@will_hodge) isn’t looking down (and missing all the good stuff) or looking up (and tripping over things), you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts, and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack